Sunday 23 January 2022

Movie Review: U.S. Marshals (1998)

An action-packed thriller, U.S. Marshals is a fast-paced chase adventure with a rich plot and no shortage of over-the-top moments.

Chicago tow truck driver Mark Warren (Wesley Snipes) is arrested for allegedly killing two Department of Diplomatic Security (DDS) agents at a shootout in the United Nations building parkade. On a prisoners' flight to New York, Warren narrowly escapes an assassination attempt, but in the ensuing melee, the plane crashes. Also on board is US Marshal Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones). He helps rescue most of the flight's passengers, but Warren escapes and is deemed a fugitive.

Gerard assembles his team and gives chase, with DDS officials inserting their agent John Royce (Robert Downey Jr.) into Gerard's crew. Warren is really Mark Sheridan, an ex-government agent caught in a web of betrayal and deception involving state espionage and a Chinese embassy assassin. Sheridan seeks help from his girlfriend Marie Bineaux (Irène Jacob) and makes his way to New York to try and clear his name, with Gerard hot on his trail.

A spin-off from the The Fugitive, U.S. Marshals provides high quality if also occasionally excessive entertainment. Every highlight rides the line between well-done and over-done, director Stuart Baird generally defaulting to a more-is-more attitude, leading to a relatively mammoth running time of 131 minutes. Despite the length, a high level of continuous exhilaration ensures solid engagement.

With quality production values, sharp editing, and frequent scenery changes to keep the visuals fresh, the spectacular scenes arrive early and often. The brilliant plane crash is an epic exercise in what-else calamity. The manhunt then goes through a swamp, followed by a cemetery shoot-out enlivened by a sniper. A breathless pursuit through a New York building ends with a memorable rooftop stunt. 

A complex but comprehensible plot underpins the action, and the central conspiracy is revealed in traceable steps. Of course the fugitive Mark Warren was never going to remain the antagonist, and co-writers Roy Huggins and John Pogue allow the dynamic between Gerard and Warren to gradually evolve as the Marshal starts to understand the layers of subterfuge surrounding events at the United Nations shoot-out.

The trio of Tommy Lee Jones, Wesley Snipes, and Robert Downey Jr. provide ample star power to keep up with all the kinetic energy. Jones is the cerebral centrepiece, with Snipes and Downey Jr. offering worthy opponents and pleasing gravitational pulls. In contrast, Gerard's team of agents (Joe Pantoliano, Daniel Roebuck, Tom Wood, and LaTanya Richardson) generally just make up the numbers. Kate Nelligan appears in a couple of scenes as Gerard's boss.

U.S. Marshals covers mostly familiar ground, but with a sparkling polish.

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